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The USDA is proposing to make online food shopping an option for families in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
Up to now, WIC participants had to use vouchers or electronic benefits cards (EBT) at the store.
With the proposed changes, participants could shop online for groceries – a move that aims to improve the WIC shopping experience while increasing equity and access to nutritious foods for WIC participants, thus positively impacting nutrition security.
May 2023 Update: 329 Salud America! members submitted a model comment and were among over 1,600 people overall to USDA’s proposed changes to enable WIC participants to shop online for food. The model comment was created by Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio in partnership with UnidosUs.
The comment period ended May 24, 2023.
The WIC program offers essential resources for families across the United States.
WIC participants, including those who are Hispanic/Latino, are more likely to have a more nutritious diet and better health outcomes. (salud.to/wiclatinos)
While WIC provides nutritional and health-related benefits to families, many WIC participants still face barriers like inequitable access to food and disparities in diet-related illnesses. Latino children were 1.8 times (bit.ly/omhobesity) more likely to be obese compared to non-Latino white children. 1 in 2 Latinos are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes at some point in their lifetime (https://salud.to/WeightDiabetes). Transportation and mobility barriers also pose as a challenge for families in rural neighborhoods (https://salud.to/safetofood).
With this in mind, the proposed changes to streamline and modernize WIC to enable online food shopping to participants would greatly benefit families by creating flexibility for families facing these barriers. If implemented, the ability to shop for food online should include safeguards against data collection and surveillance, manipulative online marketing techniques, and pervasive promotion of unhealthy foods (https://salud.to/onlinesnap).
Overall, the proposed changes could create a more convenient and equitable WIC shopping experience for Latino families.
What is WIC?
WIC is a federal food and nutrition program run by the USDA.
The program provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age 5 at nutritional risk.
Program participation rates are highest among WIC-eligible Latino and Black individuals.
“Previous updates to the WIC food packages were shown to help increase access to healthier foods for Hispanic and Latino WIC participants,” according to the USDA.
Why is USDA Proposing to Enable Online WIC Food Shopping?
For many families, the in-person WIC shopping requirement is a challenge.
Many WIC participants already face disparities like:
- Mobility or limited access to transportation.
- Live remote or rural communities.
- Special dietary needs that require supplemental foods that may not be available at the closest WIC-authorized grocery store.
The proposed WIC changes aim to eliminate these barriers and improve the food shopping experience for WIC participants.
Specific changes include:
- Removing barriers to online shopping using WIC benefits including removing the legal requirement that a WIC shopper must complete their transaction in the presence of a cashier.
- Streamlining and modernizing how WIC participants get their benefits, including encouraging WIC state agencies to allow for issuing benefits remotely, when possible.
- Meeting the needs of a modern, data-driven program, including setting the expectation that states create two new WIC staff positions to support the demands of creating online shopping in WIC.
“Overall, the proposed changes would advance nutrition security by improving the WIC shopping experience and ensuring that WIC participants have equitable access to nutritious foods,” according to the USDA.
What Are the Next Steps for WIC Online Food Shopping?
Allowing WIC participants to shop online for food can save them time and gives “more ease than ever before” to accessing healthier items, said Dr. Jamila Taylor, President & CEO of the National WIC Association.
“Recognizing major shifts in the retail landscape, this proposal meets WIC participants where they are and addresses barriers to food access that are often felt disproportionately by rural and Black and Brown communities,” Taylor said. “It unleashes a new era of innovation, building on State projects to start online WIC shopping platforms and encouraging a program-wide shift toward modern transaction technologies like mobile payments. These proposed changes open the door to new internet vendors who can meet the specific needs of WIC participants, ideally incorporating features that will simplify and streamline the WIC shopping experience, like filters for WIC-approved items.”
You can submit a public comment, too.
Public input is critical because it gives federal officials information about the potential impact of a proposed regulation, according to Unidos US. Participating in the rulemaking process allows you or your organization to shape federal programs and the rules that govern.
The current comment period ended May 24, 2023.
After this 90-day comment period, the USDA will review the comments and determine how to move forward.